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Chris Dortch

Josh Harrellson's surprising senior season at Kentucky has him on the radar of many NBA scouts.

Social media helps Kentucky's Harrellson become NBA prospect

Posted Apr 4 2011 9:15AM

HOUSTON -- Can a single tweet change the course of college basketball history and lead to an NBA career?

In the case of Kentucky and Josh Harrellson, it just might.

After he grabbed 26 rebounds in an intra-squad scrimmage last October, the 6-foot-10, 270-pound Harrellson thought Kentucky coach John Calipari owed him some props. Calipari obviously didn't agree, prompting Harrellson to voice his displeasure.

In the old days -- before the Internet, smart phones and social networking -- Harrellson might have pulled aside a newspaper beat writer and bent his ear a bit, or groused to an assistant coach, hoping his grievance might makes it way back to Calipari. Now, all anyone has to do to voice an opinion, a complaint, or what they're eating for breakfast -- in 140 characters or less -- is pull out a cell phone and punch the Twitter app.

"Just amazing to me I can't get a good job or way to go," Harrellson tweeted after his perceived snub. "Yes he has been working hard this off season ... It is just amazing to me but I look past it and keep trucking!"

Calipari, who's been known to dash off a Tweet or two himself, wasn't amused by Harrellson's missile of a missive. Harrellson was fortunate that Kentucky was given a day off after the scrimmage. Cooler heads prevailed, and Calipari, who was initially inclined to run off Harrellson, decided to just run him.

A funny thing happened during those grueling punishment sessions that included running steps and suicide sprints. Harrellson started to like them. He became a workout fiend, got stronger and in the best shape of his life, and now, after a string of monster performances during the Madness of March, has led Kentucky to the Final Four and barged his way onto the radar of NBA scouts.

Only in the Internet age.

To truly appreciate how far Harrellson has come, consider that last year, with future NBA draft picks DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Daniel Orton gobbling up all the PT, Harrellson logged just 88 minutes. He might have been an afterthought again this season if freshman Enes Kanter, the five-star freshman from Turkey, had been ruled eligible by the NCAA after he played briefly for a pro team in his native country. But he wasn't, which meant that if Kentucky were to have any semblance of an inside game, Harrellson would have to provide it.


And provide it he did. In the regular season, Harrellson shot 60 percent from the field, finished second in the Southeastern Conference in rebounding and led the league in offensive boards. Had the story ended there, it might have made for a nice little footnote in Kentucky basketball history, a case of a previously little-used player stepping up and giving the Wildcats a lift.

But the story didn't end there. It just got better. At the SEC Tournament, won by Kentucky, Harrellson earned all-tournament honors. And in the NCAA Tournament, Harrellson has become a star.

The Wildcats needed every one of his 15 points and 10 boards to hold off Princeton in their first game. And Harrellson's bulk, along with 15 points and eight boards, helped Kentucky beat West Virginia in its next game.

Against Ohio State in the Sweet 16, Harrellson was a huge key in a couple of ways. He contributed 17 points and 10 rebounds, but his ability to single-cover Buckeye freshman Jared Sullinger in the post kept Kentucky from having to double down. That in turn helped the Wildcats keep a closer eye on Ohio State's deadly perimeter shooters.

In the Elite Eight, Harrellson wasn't the least bit intimidated by North Carolina's rangy, NBA-bound front line. In 38 minutes against the Tar Heels' Tyler Zeller and John Henson, Harrellson racked up 12 points, eight boards, four assists, two steals and a block.

On Saturday night, the eyes of a hoops-loving nation will be on Harrellson and the Wildcats as they take on Connecticut in the Final Four. And if Harrellson keeps on playing the way he has in March, the next level may be awaiting him.

NBA scouting director Ryan Blake loves Harrellson's "nasty" game and trots out an oft-used truism when discussing him: "You can't coach big." Blake thinks the Portsmouth Invitational will provide yet another forum for Harrellson to convince an NBA team and it takes only one to give him a shot.

As for Kentucky, where would the Wildcats be without Harrellson?

"Doomed," said freshman forward Terrence Jones.

Well, maybe not doomed, but certainly on an early spring break.

And if the Wildcats were to win the national championship?

Harrellson would become a Kentucky folk hero, of course, right up there with the Fiddlin' Five, Rupp's Runts and the Unforgettables.

Harrellson, whose Twitter account was closed posthaste by order of Calipari, doesn't miss that form of social media. But he's glad he fired off that one last angry tweet.

"A lot of people [air their grievances] on Twitter," Harrellson said. "Twitter's not the right way to do it. But for me, it was the best thing I ever did. It turned me into a new man."

Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.

You can email him here, follow him on Twitter and listen to the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Hour.

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